In the era with many 3rd party tools you can quickly check your IP address using one of those tools or other ones. No wonder public IP addresses are easily accessible information.
For one thing, it’s good to know that you can learn your current IP address any time in case you need to know it. However, since nowadays there are many online privacy issues, knowing that your IP address is readily available to so many potentially interested parties may be a matter of concern.
In this article you will find out how IP addresses are tracked and what it means for IP address users from a privacy perspective.
What is an IP address?
IP address – internet protocol address – is a unique address that identifies a device on the internet or local network. This protocol is the set of rules governing the format of data sent through the internet or local network. It means that an IP address is the identifier that allows information to be sent between devices on a network: they allow devices to be accessible for communication and contain location information.
Devices that use the internet are all configured to follow the internet protocol, so that they know how to interact with each other and to keep the internet functioning as it should.
IP addresses are a string of numbers separated by periods.They are expressed as a set of four numbers; each number in the group can range from 0 to 255. The full IP addressing range goes from 0.0.0.0 to 255.255.255.255. For example, the IP address might be 126.96.36.199.
How are IP addresses tracked?
When two devices connect to each other through internet protocol, they have to acknowledge each other. In the internet parlance, this is known as “shaking hands.”
Your IP address needs to let the device at the other IP address know where to send the information that’s being requested. This is how the “handshake” works and IP addresses are being tracked.
Every time you visit a website, your network sends out an information packet containing your IP address and port number. The server that hosts the website you are trying to access, accepts that information packet, learns what network is asking for access, and knows where to send its response in the form of all the files that make up the site.
Now both the website and the server that hosts it know your IP address. Furthermore, your ISP will have a record of your visit. In most cases this is where the IP address tracking stops. Someone curious about your internet history will not find out what website you have visited based on your IP address only.
However, ISPs will have a record of your IP address activity and will be able to share that information with others, although this rarely happens in practice.
Reasons why IP addresses are tracked
Down we enumerate a few reasons why IP addresses are tracked. Even your IP address activity is your business and nobody else’s, and no one checks your browser’s activity, there are three reasons why third parties may want to use or access that information.
In some cases, it may be legal for marketing and analytic software to track IP addresses. This type of analytical and marketing software has the capability to track your IP address location data and provide that information to website owners.
It means that when your IP address contacts a server to access a website, the website traces where the visitor is coming from.
Usually the location information is used to personalize the page you see. For example, there are websites programmed in various languages, so when you visit a site from the USA, the site will be shown in the English language. If you visit a site using Danish ISP, the IP address will be detected as Danish, and the website will be shown in the Danish language.
Your IP address location details will be saved and provided to the site owner via such tools as Google Analytics. You do not need to worry about your name or home address: the site owners will not learn this information; however, they can see website visitor’s cities.
For instance, they can see if you are visiting their site for the first time or if you are returning. Also, they will be able to track which other website pages you visited previously.
2. Legal Concerns
IP addresses help to track users’ online behavior and in most cases identify those who commit illegal activities online. If you download illegal media or software, the company that holds the copyright can find and track the particular IP address used to download the file.
Surely they cannot be 100% certain that it was you who did it, but they can find which ISP owns that IP address and send them a complaint to pass along to you.
As IP address providers, they will be able to identify who used the IP address at a given time when the illegal activity was detected.
Furthermore, IP addresses are used in identifying the offenders behind phishing and spam emails. Email clients and email marketing software can record the email addresses that are most likely to send malicious emails and add their IP addresses to their blacklists. This helps to keep particular emails from reaching people’s email inboxes in the future.
Of course, there are more significant criminal offenses where IP address users must be identified. Therefore, law enforcement agencies have the right to demand that ISP provide IP address user’s personal information. There are no other tools to give anyone IP address user’s details – only ISP can do that (and they have strict privacy rules). In this case the lawyer or the cop will need to have a valid document to request the ISP to provide the particular IP address user’s information.
3. Scam Detection
Website visitors are not the only ones who have to worry about online scammers. Many online shops, eCommerce businesses, and credit card companies
use security software that helps to spot purchases that are likely to be fraudulent. For example, if someone makes a large purchase, special software will flag it to be reviewed before it goes through.
Also, this software checks IP addresses used to make an order. If the purchase comes from a different location than where the credit card owner lives, the order might be flagged too, so the company will review it with the customer before processing it.
As you can see, knowing IP address location (usually based on where your ISP is located) can help companies avoid fraudulent purchases. It helps to protect customers and credit card owners as well.
In most cases, the information about your IP address accessible with 3rd party tools is limited. Those tools can show your county, city and your zip code (or one nearby). With a 3rd party tool, anyone is able to find your ISP and whether IP addresses are on any blacklists. However, if someone wants to know additional details, they need to go through your ISP.
ISP can provide your details if a lawyer or law enforcement employee provides valid evidence that your IP address was linked to a crime. This means that generally IP address users should not worry that anyone can access their details and use them against them.
How can you prevent your IP address from being tracked?
As you know now, with 3rd party tools, only your IP address location can be detected. However, if you feel uncomfortable about it, there are some options for protecting your IP address from being tracked.
1. VPN service
VPN helps to disguise your IP address when you browse the web. It encrypts all your internet activity and shields your actual IP address location. VPN aim is to ensure that users’ personal data is secure and help clients avoid geographical restrictions.
2. Free Proxy server
Proxy servers obscure IP addresses by using a middleman IP that shows up instead of the original one. This is not as secure as using a VPN service because a proxy server doesn’t use data encryption, but it helps to keep IP addresses from being accessible to website users.
When you visit a website, this free browser add-on will bounce your internet connection to several nodes, making it nearly impossible to trace your IP address. However, this is not a secure tool, and some web providers do not allow using this service.
To sum up, there is no actual harm if someone is able to check your IP address location. Nowadays there are more issues on the internet that affect you directly, such as the website not using HTTPS, or a weak account password you’re using. It is important to understand how the internet and IP addresses work simply in order to be a proper internet user.